Peninsular Thinking

A conversation about Bremerton, Port Orchard, Poulsbo, Silverdale, Bainbridge Island, Kingston, Manchester, Seabeck, Southworth, Suquamish, Belfair, Keyport, Olalla, Bangor, Hansville, Indianola, Port Gamble, Allyn, Port Ludlow, Gig Harbor and every once in a while something about the good folks who don't have the good fortune to live here.
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Archive for the ‘Life and Death’ Category

Woman first on scene of Baby Doll crash sells bracelets

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Aily Blaikie, the woman who was first on the scene of a fatal crash on Baby Doll Road Dec. 16, attended today’s memorial.

Family and friends of Rebekah Barrett and Shanaia Bennett gathered on Baby Doll to remember the girls (who were best friends) and to place roadside signs in their memory urging people to drive safely.
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On the night of the collision, Blaikie ran down the road after hearing the Toyota Camry Rebekah was driving racing with another car at high speed and the sickening crash that followed. Blaikie arrived at the car, which had collided with a tree, and held the two girls as they faded out of consciousness, saying a prayer for them. A third girl, who was in the back seat, survived.

Blakie, a young woman herself, left in shock after aid arrived. The next morning she was out on the road staring at the scene. The memory of the girls’ last moments haunted Blakie. She had nightmares and sometimes hallucinated, thinking she saw them in her house and carried on conversations with them.
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She often walked down to the scarred tree, where someone had set up a makeshift memorial. For hours she would lie on the bench. One day, she said, a man came to the site and they talked for a long time. She later learned he was Rebekah’s father, John Barrett.

Blaikie met the two families and has developed a bond forged through the tragedy. Slowly, she is healing emotionally. But she wanted to do something for the Bennetts and Barretts.

Blakie is selling memorial wristbands with both girls’ names, a music note for Shanaia and a soccer ball for Rebecca. Any money she raises will help the family with expenses they’ve incurred and for memorials like the roadside signs.

The bracelets cost $4 each. To order one, call Blaikie at (360) 551-1614


Memorial to girls planned on Baby Doll Road Wednesday

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Family and friends of two teenage girls killed in a single car collision Dec. 16 on Baby Doll Road will gather at the site Wednesday, as Kitsap County installs memorial signs commemorating the crash victims.
Rebekah Faye Barrett, 18, of South Kitsap, and Shanaia Rose Bennett, 17, of Gig Harbor, died on the scene, after the Toyota Camry Barrett was driving skidded of the road and slammed into a tree. A third girl, 17, survived the crash.
Witnesses reported that Barrett had been racing with a 1997 Toyota pickup, driven by her boyfriend Robert A. Rundquist. Rundquist, 20, of South Kitsap faces two counts of vehicular homicide in Kitsap County Superior Court. His trial is set for May.
The signs, purchased with donations through the county’s memorial sign program, will urge safe driving.
“If either one of those signs saves one life, it will be worth it,” said Rhonda Barrett, Rebekah’s mother.
Anyone is welcome to attend the memorial from noon to 1 p.m. on Baby Doll Road. The road will be closed during the event.


Food bank feeds the wounded soul

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Man does not live by bread alone, so the saying goes. In this case, flowers filled the void.

I happened on this post shared Thursday on Facebook by South Kitsap Helpline Executive Director Jennifer Hardison:

“The following story is one example of why I love working at the South Kitsap Helpline…our fantastic staff and volunteers always seem to go above and beyond for those in need!”

The food bank, it seems, recently got a call, from a woman whose mother had passed away.

“They were having a small memorial for her today at a local park and she was so worried there would be no flowers as she couldn’t afford to purchase them,” Hardison said.

The woman asked if Helpline could donate any flowers from their greenhouse nursery, the organization’s garden/revenue source. Not much was in bloom but for some dahlias in the garden.

Volunteer Mary-cathern Edwards and another woman, Cathy Deisler gathered flowers, ferns and herbs from the nursery as well as from their neighbors, who donated to the cause. The two women put together seven cut flower arrangements in glass vases.
Helpline Flowers
The woman was “absolutely overwhelmed and so very, very grateful,” Hardison said.

The woman did not care to be interviewed for this blog post.

Our condolences on your loss.

Chris Henry
Kitsap Sun


Update on Kitsap County Coroner’s crib for kids program

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Brynn writes:

At the end of July I wrote about Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom and his involvement in a national program targeting families that need a safe place for their children to sleep.

At the time Sandstrom had five Graco Pack ‘n Play portable cribs to give away. Shortly after my article was published all the cribs were spoken for, but the list of people needing the portable cribs was growing. It wasn’t long after the article ran that Sandstrom was contacted by the national nonprofit organization Cribs for Kids — the agency he partnered with to help combat the high number of accidental baby deaths — who let him know if he could raise $2,500 from the community the organization would match that amount and send him more cribs.

Last week Sandstrom sent me an email saying he’d met the financial match thanks to generous donations from the community. That means 75 more cribs are headed to Kitsap County for low-income families that otherwise do not have a safe place for their babies to sleep. If a family is given a crib they also receive education about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines for infants that include always placing a baby on its back to sleep and keeping things like blankets, pillows and toys out of the crib to reduce a baby’s chance of suffocation.

Sandstrom credits donations from individuals, the East Bremerton Kiwanis Club, Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Bremerton fire fighters and the Boilermakers Local 290 for helping reach the $2,500 goal.

“For several years now, our office has been providing public education to schools and the Navy, participated in high school mock crashes (which are sponsored by MADD) and instructed other agencies on the proper way in investigate infant deaths.  This gives us an opportunity to provide a tool along with the training that will aid in safe sleeping,” Sandstrom said in a news release.

Once the cribs arrive, Sandstrom will work with Kitsap Community Resources to identify families in need. KCR will distribute the cribs, he said.


Kitsap County Coroner needs more cribs

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Brynn writes:
Last week I wrote about a program Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom is implementing locally that gives cribs to families in need of a safe place for their baby to sleep. Sandstrom is doing this as part of a national Cribs for Kids program that works with law enforcement and first responders to reduce the number of infant deaths from suffocation or other, unexplained reasons.So far Sandstrom is the only coroner in the Northwest to join the program.My story ran online July 31 and in the Aug. 1 print edition of the Kitsap Sun. At the time it was published, Sandstrom had five portable Graco Pack ‘n Play cribs to give to parents, or caregivers, who called and requested them.By 2:20 p.m. on Aug. 1 I received this email from Sandstrom:

Just as a follow-up, I had had several requests come in for the cribs, so I need to order more in a hurry!  (Not a bad problem to have.)  I also just found out that the headquarters for the “Cribs for Kids” Program will send me 100 cribs for $2,500.00, because of a matching grant they have. I didn’t know it would be too late to put that information out to your subscribers or not, but that comes to just $25.00 a crib!  It would be wonderful to provide that information to someone wanting to donate to this life saving need.

I assumed the story would appeal to parents who want their baby to have a safe place to sleep, but I didn’t think Sandstrom would see the cribs snatched up so fast. Sandstrom just started this program, so he hasn’t yet had a chance to appeal to the community to help raise the money needed to buy more cribs. He makes sure before buying them that they are safe and not on any recall lists. Sandstrom also provides educational information with the crib reminding parents about safe sleep environments for children, including placing infants and babies on their backs to sleep in a crib that hasn’t nothing else in it — no blankets, no stuffed animals, no toys, etc.
If you’re interested in donating money to help Sandstrom meet the $2,500 needed to buy 100 cribs from the national program, contact Sandstrom’s office at 360-337-7077.


Emergency responders urge water safety

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

South Kitsap Fire & Rescue emergency responders took advantage of warm weather Monday to practice water rescue on Long Lake.

The training was led by Firefighter Ed Seibolda certified Rapid Entry Rescue Swimmer. Crews practiced donning ice rescue suits and launching rapid deployment craft. The inflatable craft serve multiple purposes including rescue operations on Puget Sound (such as responding to a submerged vehicle), lake response, swift water or ice rescue situations.
Rescue
“Having versatile and modular tools such as the rescue suits and RDC allows our crews the ability to gain rapid entry with minimal risk to the responders,” said SKFR spokesman Ron Powers

Crews competed for the best deployment time, which was about 2 minutes and 20 seconds, Powers said.

SKFR reminds people to practice water safety. The American Red Cross recommends swimming with a buddy, and having children and inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. But but do not rely on life jackets alone, safety experts advise.

Life jacket loaner boards are located at Long Lake and Horseshoe Lake County Parks during the summer months.

Here are other tips from the Red Cross:
* Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
* Ensure that everyone in the family learns to swim well. Enroll in age-appropriate Red Cross water orientation and Learn-to-Swim courses or classes at your local pool.
* Never leave a young child unattended near water and do not trust a child’s life to another child. Teach children to always ask permission to go near water.
* Establish rules for your family and enforce them without fail. For example, set limits based on each person’s ability, do not let anyone play around drains and suction fittings.
* Do not allow swimmers to hyperventilate before swimming under water or have breath-holding contests.
* Even if you do not plan on swimming, be cautious around natural bodies of water including ocean shoreline, rivers and lakes. Cold temperatures, currents and underwater hazards can make a fall into these bodies of water dangerous.
* If you go boating, wear a life jacket. Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.
* Avoid alcohol use. Alcohol impairs judgment, balance and swimming skills, and it reduces the body’s ability to stay warm.


Bill, back from the dead, thanks to Doreen

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

June 22 began like any workday for Bill Zimmerman of South Kitsap, owner of First Choice Construction. He got up at 5:30 a.m., showered quickly, dressed and headed out to pick up materials for a job he was doing for a neighbor.

Bill, 55, who does custom construction, is meticulous and driven, according to his girlfriend of 14 years, Doreen King, 57. He was particularly anxious that day to pick up a slab of granite that had been delayed in delivery. But as the slab was being transferred to Bill’s truck, it fell and shattered. Bill, his frustration mounting, waited two hours for a new slab to be cut and polished.

Later, Bill and his helper lifted the granite slab into place in the home under remodel. Suddenly, Bill began to feel lightheaded. He went home, calling it a day maybe just a shade earlier than usual. He sat down on the couch and told Doreen, “I have chest pain, and my arms hurt.”

He recalls telling her maybe he’d have to knock off lifting granite, leave it to the younger kids. He recalls thinking maybe he’d pulled a muscle in his chest. That granite was 300 pounds, after all. And that was all Bill remembers until five days later when he woke up in Harrison Medical Center’s intensive care unit.

Doreen, or Dee, as Bill calls her, is a Navy veteran and former reservist with a lengthy career in medical billing. While in the reserves, working at Naval Hospital Bremerton, she learned basic first aid and CPR, and she happened to have a blood pressure cuff in the home. She checked Bill’s vital signs and was alarmed at the numbers.

Dee was just about to say, “Let’s go to the hospital,” when Bill looked at her and said, “Oh, no.” His head dropped back, his eyes rolled, “his mouth contorted and his whole body seemed to be in a spasm,” Dee said.

She and her son, Pete, moved him to the floor, where Dee began CPR, as Bill was not breathing. Every time she stopped to check, Bill would take one large breath but no more, so she continued with compressions, as Pete called 911.

South Kitsap Fire & Rescue medics arrived within five minutes (4.5 by Doreen’s recollection). They “shocked” Bill three times and hustled him into an ambulance. On the way out the door, Dee was surprised to meet the EMS chaplain. “Were they expecting the worst?” she wondered.

In the emergency room, the pace of activity and urgency in the doctors’ and nurses’ voices told Doreen that Bill’s life “was hanging by a thread.” A cardiologist put a stent in a blood vessel that was completely blocked, and — miraculously, by his doctor’s account — Bill survived. The doctor credits Doreen’s effective CPR with the fact Bill did not suffer any brain damage.

Bill was sent to the intensive care unit, heavily sedated, and put on a ventilator, since he had inhaled body fluids during his ordeal. After five days of intensive respiratory therapy in the ICU, his lungs were clear enough for him to be woken up and taken off the ventilator.

Bill remembers almost nothing from the time the heart attack came on. One of the first things he said to Doreen was, “I have to finish that job.” Dee told him, “It will be there for you.”

Bill was blown away to hear about Dee’s role in his near death experience. “It brought tears to my eyes,” he said, “I think it’s strengthened my relationship with her. I know how much she truly loves me. It doesn’t come any better than this. She knows I love her, too, because I squeezed her hand in the hospital. That’s the first thing I told her when I was able, ‘I love you, and you saved my life.’”

Dee and Bill have played the lottery in the past. In the hospital, Dee thought about luck and what could have happened. She told Bill, “You know what? You hit the lotto, guy, you’re alive.”

Both are grateful to the SKFR paramedics, the staff of Harrison’s ER and ICU, and Bill’s cardiologist, Dr. David Tinker.

“He (Bill) was in the right place at the right time, with the right people, just the way God wanted it,” Dee said.

Three weeks after the heart attack, Bill was in the doctor’s office asking when he could go back to work.

“It’s hard for someone like me, who’s done this all his life to be sitting here,” he said. “It’s driving me crazy. On the other hand, I can’t be putting my life in jeopardy.”

Bill has quit smoking, replaced coffee with tea and can look forward to taking medications for the rest of his life. He has to take it easy — no lifting granite slabs, at least until he gets the doctor’s OK. But there’s no doubt he’s making a remarkable recovery.

There’s another problem, however. While Bill was in the hospital, someone stole his tools out of his truck. Because of his sudden illness, the truck wasn’t secured and it was parked just off his property, so homeowner’s insurance won’t cover the tools. Nor will Bill’s auto policy. Replacing them would cost about $3,000.

To make matters worse, Dee, was laid off from her last position with the Veteran’s Benefit Administration and is seeking work in a crowded job market. But in between worrying about getting through each day, the couple has been able to put things in perspective.

Bill’s relatively smooth recovery since his release from the intensive care unit has give the whole episode a surreal sheen, Dee said. It almost seems like it never happened. But then, she’ll look outside at the lawn and wonder how things would be if Bill weren’t here to mow the grass, little things like that.

“You don’t take it for granted that he’s sitting there,” Dee said. “Every day counts. Now it’s much more meaningful.”

For information on CPR classes, contact your local fire department. In South Kitsap, visit, South Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s website (skfr.org), or call (360) 871-2411.

The Home Builders Association of Kitsap County will offer a CPR class at 10 a.m. Sept. 8 at the HBA office, 5251 Auto Center Way in Bremerton. Those who complete the training will be certified for two years under the Washington State Industrial Safety & Health Act, which requires a “person holding a valid certificate of First Aid Training be present or available at all work sites.” The fee is $50 for HBA members; $60 for nonmembers. Register online at www.kitsaphba.com.

A donation account to help cover medical expenses and tool replacement has been set up for William Zimmerman at Kitsap Credit Union.

P.S. Note to readers: Yes, I do notice the less-than-subtle product placement in this photo submitted by Dee. I guess I could have cropped it out, but given what these two have been through, I let it stand. And in the interest of full disclosure, I know Doreen from when her son and my son were friends in elementary school in the 1990s. I thought the story had merit in that it’s a pretty dramatic account of CPR in action. — Chris Henry, reporter


Cross-country rider reaches Iowa

Friday, August 10th, 2012

A year ago Tracy Delp was at the end of her rope, or so it seemed. The 47-year-old Port Orchard woman had pledged to ride horseback across the country to raise awareness and funding for cancer, which had claimed her mother and others she loved, including animals. She and her riding partner Dan Shanafelt set out from the Pacific Coast on their Coast2Coast for Cancer ride on Mother’s Day 2011, but somewhere near the border between Washington and Idaho, Dan had a change of heart and turned back.

The last time I wrote about Delp, she had trailered her team of horses (and one mule) back to Washington to regroup, blindly determined not to abandon her goal.

Today, lo and behold, there comes in a Google alert news that Delp made it to Iowa, more than halfway to her destination: Delaware’s shoreline. Now riding with a trimmed down team of one woman, one horse and a plucky dog named Ursa, Delp has improvised daily and leaned heavily on the kindness of strangers to leapfrog team and trailer across the Western and Central United States.

“I’ve done it every which way to Sunday,” she said. “I’ve handed my keys to complete strangers.”

The Rocky Mountains were her first big challenge. Delp set out late last fall (almost winter really), hurrying from the point she left off to make the crossing.

“I was told there is no way. People told me I was crazy,” she said.

It wouldn’t have been the first time.

Delp and company took 10 days to get through the mountains. “The next day, it snowed like a banshee,” she said.

Delp returned home shortly before Thanksgiving to wait out the winter and resumed her journey again in mid-April. Wouldn’t you know she picked a summer of record-setting heat and drought?

Her MO has been to start near dawn and knock off around noon. Innovation, animal instinct and sheer luck have all been required to keep the team from overheating. Ursa, it turns out can find water where there appears to be none.

“You play the beat-the-heat game. Some days you win. Some days you lose,” she said.

The heat bred crazy lightning and thunderstorms.

Delp has gotten so used to being outdoors that she almost feels claustrophobic inside a building. She’s gained a fine appreciation for the sheer size of this country and just how much of it is empty, or rather open landscape.

“There’s a whole lot of nowhere,” Delp said. “My idea of nowhere is a lot different than it used to be.”

Obstacles large and small present themselves daily, not if but when. Most recently the horse, Sierra, stepped on her cell phone. It still worked, but then she got caught in a rainstorm. Water leaked through the cracks and killed the faithful device, which had to be replaced.

Somehow, money for supplies, gas to the next town, a place to stay fall into Delp’s lap just when she needs them. Some of the funding for the trip comes from her website, which allows donors to choose whether they want to give to partner organizations, one that raises money for animals with cancer, one for people. Another option is to sponsor supplies and other costs of the ride.

Last August, Delp was in the running for a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh grant. The corporate take on crowd funding allowed supporters of micro-causes to vote, advancing programs and projects like Delp’s ride. Projects in various categories earned grants awarded monthly to those with the most votes. Coast2Coast for Cancer made it to 31st place, but Delp did not win a prize.

Often, people along the route will simply step up to fill a need. Like the woman who offered to keep the horse as Delp hauled back to Washington last week on an emergency trip to tend to one of her dogs being cared for at home, that “ironically,” as Delp says, came down with cancer.

Delp expected to have to put the dog down, but 14-year-old Duke rallied at her arrival. “I’m checking in with him, and he’s not ready,” said Delp, who makes a living as an “animal interpreter.”

On Thursday, I spoke to Delp, who was driving her truck, decorated with sponsor decals, through Colorado on her way back to Iowa. Duke was happily gazing at the scenery go by. That’s right; Delp will now bring her aging dog, who is ailing with cancer along on the journey.

She hasn’t quite figured out what she will do with Duke while she rides, but Delp is undaunted. She’s pondering how to fix up a wagon in which he can ride comfortably. Alternately, she’ll find a daily dog sitter. One way or another, she and her animals will roll with whatever the road brings their way.

“Cancer is not something you can ever plan for,” she said. “Now, here we are. This is an adventure.”

Update on Friday: Duke died on Thursday night, just a few hours after my interview with Delp. And the journey continues.


Six degrees: Baby’s heart, Obama’s visit

Monday, April 30th, 2012

PORT ORCHARD — Kay Arens is quick to point out that President Barack Obama on his visit to Seattle Feb. 17 knew nothing of the drama that was unfolding at Seattle Children’s Hospital, as baby Kamryn Elizabeth Aubrey of Port Orchard lay waiting for her heart transplant.

Kamryn is now doing quite well, but her medical complications place a financial burden on her parents, Kelli and Mike Aubrey. Arens, a friend of the baby’s family, called to note a fundraiser concert Saturday in Gig Harbor.

Kelli Aubrey is quick to point out that, contrary to some stories going around, the president’s arrival did not delay the surgery. It did add one more layer of anxiety to an already tense situation.

Kamryn was perfectly normal at birth and for her first two weeks of life. Then suddenly she went downhill. Her breathing became labored, and she was lethargic. She didn’t eat or cry normally. On Christmas Eve, her feet started turning blue.

The Aubreys rushed Kamryn to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. The baby’s temperature was 94 degrees. Tests on Christmas Day revealed a heart defect that turned out to be left ventricle noncompaction dilated cardiomyopathy. The condition involves defective development of the heart tissue, resulting in ineffective pumping of blood. The prognosis for patients is poor, and a heart transplant typically is needed.

Kamryn was a “surprise,” the youngest of five in the Aubrey family. Kelli and Mike have been married 23 years. Kamryn was born not long after both, who are social workers, had been laid off from a Gig Harbor foster care agency. Mike has since found work with the state.

The Aubreys leaned heavily on their faith in the weeks after Kamryn was hospitalized. Kelli began a detailed blog, and a local prayer chain grew … and grew. Before long, people in Africa, China, Russia, Scotland and the United States were pulling for Kamryn. Kelli and others cite the hand of the Almighty in the baby’s overcoming long odds no bookie would back.

“This is a child that should not have survived this,” Arens said. “Even people who aren’t religious came forward and are praying for this baby. She surpassed any expectation anybody ever had.”

Miraculously, a compatible heart became available less than two weeks after Kamryn went on the waiting list. It was none too soon, as the baby was failing fast.

“This is difficult to think of someone losing a child to help ours,” Kelli wrote on the blog. “This is what we will do for another family if Kamryn doesn’t make it through all of this. It is hard for me to think about and difficult to write. But God is in control and we are committed to His path.”
On Feb. 17, the day of the surgery, Kelli and Mike walked their 9-week-old daughter down the long corridor to the operating room.

“I kissed her little head and told her to ‘be good.’ Mike kissed her, too. And then we walked back to her empty room and sat down. Although I didn’t like the empty room, I was at peace.”

The Aubreys were notified by phone messages throughout the long surgery of each hurdle cleared, including the announcement that the transplanted heart was beating.

“The piles of wadded tissues and empty Starbucks cups tell only part of the story of the day,” Kelli wrote.

Obama, whose visit included a stop at Boeing’s Everett plant, spent the day talking about economic recovery. The hospital’s transplant coordinator told the Aubreys she had to do “a lot of finagling to get the heart here,” but the surgery wasn’t stalled as a result.

“There’s some misconstrued ideas that the president may have delayed it,” Kelli said. “But I don’t know that he did. I actually don’t think he has that kind of clout.”

Kamryn arrived back home March 28, and she is back to the “sweet” personality her parents knew before she fell ill. She is physically delayed due to weeks of hospitalization but is catching up.

Kamryn continues to require ‘round the clock care, including a complicated regimen of medication. Kelli must stay at home, and the loss of her income, plus some uncovered medical costs and transportation to Children’s, is weighing on the family.

Breath of Aire, a Christian music group, will play a benefit concert for Kamryn at 7 p.m. Saturday at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 7700 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor, with donations accepted.

You can also make donations on the blog about Kamryn,
www.prayingforkamryn.blogspot.com. As with all charitable giving, donors should do enough research to satisfy themselves of the legitimacy of the cause.


SKHS grad makes preemptive strike against breast cancer

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Justine Avery is tired of living with a ticking time bomb. Avery, who carries the BRCA1 genetic mutation, has an 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer. The disease killed her mother Sandy Avery, first wife of Kitsap County Assessor Jim Avery, in 1989, when Justine was 9. So Justine has decided to get a prophylactic (preventative) bi-lateral (both sides) mastectomy.

The date of the surgery, Thursday, has been set for some time. Justine has approached the impending procedure with courage and a sense of humor. A 1999 South Kitsap High School graduate who lives with her husband Rob Sands and works in Seattle, Justine was feted by friends at a recent “Ta Ta to the Ta Ta’s” party. Her BFFs who put it together “made a very naughty cake.”

“I’m very supportive of it. I think it’s a very wise thing to do,” Jim Avery said of Justine’s decision.

Justine, who also has a 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer, has kept friends and family up to speed with a blog. Part of her motivation in going public with such a private matter is that she has been part of two studies on genetic predisposition toward ovarian cancer, and she hopes to raise funds for the Marsha Rivkin Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Because of the research, high-risk women like her can get free screenings twice a year, something not covered by insurance.

Justine’s raised nearly $4,000 toward a goal of $10,000. That’s not counting about $2,000 raised from the Ta-ta party, with part of the donations coming from the sale of ta-ta-tinis … two olives. The support of friends and acquaintances — some of whom she hasn’t talked to in years — means a lot.

“It’s kind of made me feel at peace with my decision,” she said. “It’s kind of made me realize that what I’m doing is the right thing. It’s the right decision.”

More importantly, Justine said, she wants to share information with and offer support to other women who may have the gene, or who like her have already been tested and face some tough choices. Justine is not telling others what to do. On the blog, she simply shares the back story of her bold decision.

Her mother was diagnosed at age 38 (Justine is now 31). “I don’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t ill,” Justine said. And yet that didn’t stop Sandy Avery from living a full life. “It was always in the background. She was a wonderful mom with a great spirit. The cancer didn’t stop her, up until the last hour. She was a great mom.”

The aggressive cancer spread to other organs, and Sandy Avery died after six years of rigorous treatment. Other family members who developed cancer were her aunt, who survived breast cancer diagnosed in her 40s but later died of ovarian cancer, and her cousin, diagnosed in her 30s, who is a cancer survivor.

After her cousin’s diagnosis, some members of the family were tested for the “breast cancer gene” and found a positive link. Justine’s older sister, who escaped the BRCA1 gene, urged her to get tested, but Justine resisted, at least at first.

“Maybe to some degree I have always felt it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped,” she wrote on the blog. “Maybe it was because I was sick of the anxiety of going to get my boobs squeezed between two pieces of glass once a year and I figured that if I didn’t have the gene, I would not have to revisit this for at least another 12 years; or maybe it was to shut everyone up already…. Regardless, I truly believe the decision I made 3 years ago at the age of 28 is going to save my life.”

Justine is quick to point out that cancer caused by the gene is relatively rare. “Only 7 percent of breast cancers are caused by a genetic mutation (BRCA1 and BRCA2). If someone in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it most likely means they are part of the other 93 percent. It’s when you see patterns of early diagnosis that you should start to consider genetic testing.”

Justine’s gut reaction to the whole situation: “This sucks! … Up and down for sure. I’m dealing with the suckiness of it all. I have a wonderful family who has helped me sift through the decisions I’ve been confronted with.”

Justine outlines the choices facing women who test positive for the gene. The first is vigilance in the form of frequent mammograms, MRIs, blood tests and ultrasounds.

“I am so thankful for the constant screening. My mom didn’t have the opportunities I have. But to be honest I’m getting tired of it,” she wrote.

The second option involves a five-year course of a chemotherapy drug called Tamoxifen, which results in early (and temporary) menopause, cutting her cancer risk in half.

“The last option may seem ‘radical’ to some: a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. In other words, amputation of my precious boobies, because they will most likely kill me. I have chosen the latter of the three.”

Back to the time bomb analogy, there’s a 15 percent chance that, like on the cartoons, a little white flag saying “boom!” will pop put of the bomb, all that worry for nothing. But there’s really only one way for Justine to control the outcome and avoid a diagnosis she calls “unacceptable.”

“I still am haunted by the fact that I’m cutting off two perfectly normal (and quite lovely I might add) breasts for something I ‘may’ get,” she wrote. “But here’s the thing, ‘may’ in this circumstance means an 85 percent chance … That also means I only have a 15 percent chance of not getting it. I will sit at a craps or blackjack table for hours but I would never play those odds.”

Justine wants to have children and so is delaying a decision on removing her ovaries at this time. She knew you’d want to know.

According to Justine’s oncologist, about 50 percent of women with her type of family history elect prophylactic mastectomies, and about 80 percent get hysterectomies once they are done having children.

Since genetic screening has only recently become more common among families with a strong background of breast/ovarian cancer, Justine hopes writing about her experiences will help other women navigate this new frontier in women’s medicine.

“I am actually the first one in my family who is ‘choosing’ to do this preventatively. It can feel lonely sometimes,” she wrote. “This is my way of not only documenting this time for those in my family that may come later, but also helping to create awareness of breast cancer.”


Super Bowl XLIX

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